ROCKVILLE — On Sept. 10, Montgomery County Councilmember Tom Hucker held a press conference discussing his upcoming legislation that would require rental units in the county to have working air conditioning.
Hucker, who also serves as the chair of the council’s Transportation and Environment Committee, originally introduced the legislation earlier this summer.
According to Hucker’s office, the new policy would amend the county code to require landlords to provide and maintain air conditioning in rental housing within the county between May 1 and Sept. 30. Air in the units must not rise above 80 degrees, according to the legislation.
The issue of air conditioning can be especially important to vulnerable communities like the county’s elderly population and children.
“Air conditioning is more than a matter of comfort for many people,” Hucker said. “Especially for the elderly and those with chronic health conditions, it’s a matter of life or death. And climate change is only exacerbating the problem, as just six weeks ago we lived through the hottest month ever recorded on the planet.”
During the press conference, Hucker said that this summer had the hottest June ever experienced, and July was the hottest month in all of recorded human history.
“Montgomery County’s growing population of 300,000 tenants have no protection against extreme heat,” he said. “There is no requirement for air conditioning in the Montgomery County housing code; we require landlords to provide heat but (there are) no requirements for air conditioning because our housing code was written before climate change became a life-threatening issue.”
Maryland, along with other parts of the world have experienced heat-related deaths this summer, Hucker said.
He explained that along with this legislation, the county will need to pass policies that help the community adapt and remain safe in the changing climate.
“Our housing law is founded on the premise: that our tenants are entitled to safe and healthy living spaces, and our laws are enforced by our housing department but without any requirement for working AC, our department is unable to require an owner to keep each unit in a healthy temperature,” Hucker said. “In our research for this bill, we found that we still have some apartments, incredibly, where the landlord doesn’t provide any AC at all.”
He explained, however, that what is more common is that older buildings that were built without air conditioning are being run by negligent landlords who do not make adequate repairs.
Dr. James Bridgers spoke on behalf of Dr. Travis Gayles who is Montgomery County’s health officer and chief of Public Health Services.
He explained that with increased temperatures, doctors have noticed an increase of cardiovascular and respiratory problems.
“High-temperature events and mortality have been well documented, with evidence suggesting substantial increases in mortality from respiratory and cardiovascular disease,” Bridgers said. “Studies have also consistently indicated that acute respiratory heat effects are likely caused by a direct impact on breathing hot air.”
He noted that local legislations need to begin passing policies to protect vulnerable populations.
Also, in attendance were members of The Charter House, which offers senior independent living in Silver Spring.
Ella Cassidy, who is a resident of the senior living facility, said that she was hospitalized recently for issues caused by the summer heat.
“We have different diseases and different things. I have heart disease, and being in a hot place like that with no air conditioning…we need a bill like this one to pass,” she said.
She explained that breathing hot air is especially difficult and dangerous for seniors who have other underlying health issues.
Matt Losak of the Montgomery County Renters Alliance also spoke during the press conference. In his remarks he noted that the county’s renter population has grown exponentially in the past 10 years or so.
“We have to address the idea that stable, affordable, quality housing is in the public interest,” he said. “We need to understand that rental housing is not a transitory position for Americans nowadays; it’s actually a stable, permanent way of living.”
Hucker’s legislation went through a public hearing later that today, and according to Hucker’s office, the bill is set to be voted on by the Transportation and Environment Committee on Sept. 23. The bill will then go to the full council for approval before County Executive Marc Elrich signs it into law.